January 2, 2011
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
Grace and peace to all, as we open the new Calendar Year this morning, and certainly with prayers that 2011 will be a year of many blessings in all our lives, in our Church and city and nation and world. And on the Ninth Day of Christmas, my True Love game to me, Nine Ladies Dancing, which certainly sounds fun and a good start for this new year!
The Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day isn’t quite as festive as that. I remember Ruth Cover told me some years ago a story about a Sunday School teacher who asked the students in her class to draw a picture of some part of the Christmas story. She got from one child Mary and Joseph and the Baby in the Manger, from another Shepherds and Angels, and from another the Three Wise Men. Then little Bobby showed her his. A jet airplane, streaking through the skies. “I thought I asked you to draw a part of the Christmas story,” said the teacher. “This is,” said Bobby. “It’s the ‘Flight into Egypt. And can you see, up there in the cockpit: That’s Pontius, the Pilot.”
In any event, a smile. This past week on Wednesday we observed the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is the story-within-a-story that we skip over in this morning’s reading about the Holy Family. But all of it goes together, and it is the part of the story we might be most tempted to skip over in deference to what I guess we call “holiday spirit.”
Herod discovers that he has been betrayed by the Wise Men, and in his raging and his fear he lashes out at his unknown enemy, this mysterious Child of Destiny rumored to have been born in Bethlehem—the one who will restore David’s line, thereby displacing his own. And like so many tyrants, rulers, overlords, oppressors, he decides to nip the threat in the bud. Eliminate the child and at the same time send a message loud and clear to any who would want to stir up ideas like this in the future. And so, he orders the Slaughter of the Innocents.
Joseph has a premonition, a warning in a dream, and he gathers Mary and the Child and what few possessions they have with them and flees Bethlehem to go into hiding in the displaced persons camps of Egypt. Where they can live anonymously. Then years pass, old Herod dies. The Bethlehem Incident fades from memory. Joseph and Mary decide they can slip back into their own hometown of Nazareth, in that remote backwater area of the Galilee, and resume their lives.
And so, again. Not a festive holiday story. But we are reminded in this Second Sunday of Christmastide, that it is our real world he was born into on Christmas Eve. The same world with this morning’s headlines of Pakistan and Ivory Coast and Somalia and Sudan. A world where a Massacre of the Innocents happens somewhere or other more often than we care to think—and where how many families have scurried off into a fearful night to escape the tyrant’s knock at the door?
The Good News of Christmas is that Jesus wasn’t born in Santa’s Village. He came here, to us, and to this real world of ours, and shared in it fully. A life story that began in poverty and fear and violence, and that ended at the Cross. A hard story, because the redeeming of human beings in all our brokenness was no easy business. It had to be that way for him, because we are who we are. Major surgery for a major illness.
And so, on this Second Sunday of Christmastide, we would take a breath—at just how much it cost. And with prayers that as we set out into a New Year that understanding, as we might catch even a glimpse of it, would give us a deeper sense of the value of the gift we have received—and calling us into a deeper joy and appreciation of his costly grace and livegiving, lifesaving mercy, and the blessing that he is for us.
That said, as we gather at the table on this first Sunday of the year, and to go out then into the world of our lives with the remembrance of his great gift of love for us in our hearts, his sacrificial gift, I would offer simply as a word of blessing and encouragement for us all in 2011 these lines from Paul at the beginning of Ephesians:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
Christmas blessings, and Happiest of New Years--